Police in race to save stolen Enigmamachine

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The Independent Online

A mman who claims to have innocently bought a stolen Enigma coding machine for about £25,000 has threatened to destroy it, police said yesterday.

A mman who claims to have innocently bought a stolen Enigma coding machine for about £25,000 has threatened to destroy it, police said yesterday.

The German encoding machine, which fell into Allied hands during the Second World War and was used to decipher Nazi messages, was stolen in April from a museum at Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.

After its disappearance, three letters were sent by a man claiming to represent "his master", who claims to have bought the machine in good faith and wanted to return the device, providing he was reimbursed and the police guaranteed not to charge him.

But since the police said they could not offer immunity from prosecution, the man has sent a fourth letter to the Bletchley Park Trust stating he intends to destroy the typewriter-sized machine.

The letter reads: "I have been instructed to inform you that negotiations for the return of the G312 are hereby terminated, and further, that the machine will now be destroyed." G312 is the serial number of the missing machine, which has been valued at up to £100,000 by experts.

The first three letters were posted in the Midlands and were written in a muddled, archaic language; the fourth was sent from west London.

The author of the letters has asked for a five-figure sum, said to be about £25,000, to compensate the buyer beforethe machine is returned and has signed the letters with a codeword known only to the writer, the trust and the police.

Police believe the person responsible has a detailed knowledge of Bletchley Park.

The head of Milton Keynes CID, Detective Chief Inspector Simon Chesterman, who is leading the investigation, said: "I can see no reason for the threats made in this latest communication. If the author is prepared to contact me personally, I believe I can provide the reassurances he requires."

Christine Large, director of Bletchley Park Trust, said: "We are keeping our fingers crossed that the person who is able to afford this machine has the facilities to look after it."

A number of "three-rotor" Enigma machines are on themarket, but the one stolen, which was on loan from the intelligence-gathering centre GCHQ, is rare. It has four rotors and produces an advanced form of the Enigma code.

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